We are now going in to what’s traditionally known as the “hungry gap”. This is the time of year after last year’s supplies have been exhausted, the apples, root vegetables, dried pulses gone, and the new fresh food of spring not yet grown. Of course my reality isn’t hungry at all, because we just go to the shops and buy what we need, but you can feel its shadow in the veg patch.
Our veg patch flooded this winter, so we really have nothing over there, but that’s ok because frankly there wouldn’t have been much anyway. Long ago I gave up the unequal struggle against Mission Impossible agent pigeons that seem to be able to breach any defences I could raise around my purple sprouting broccoli. I still think that PSB, as it affectionately known in our house, is the perfect March vegetable, but these days I accept that my supplies must be bought in. It is mostly eaten steamed with anchovy sauce. (It is not a very difficult thing this anchovy sauce. Take some Gentlemen’s Relish, take some butter or olive oil, mush it all together, quantities to taste. Add chilli flakes if you like chilli flakes. Job done.)
The one thing that has survived, and perhaps even enjoyed the floods is the rhubarb. The crown is just proud of the water level so it didn’t rot off, and rhubarb is legendary for its love of water. I remember my father saying that in his experience rhubarb even liked being watered in the rain. He may have been exaggerating a little bit.
So we have an impressive mound of pink stems, topped with rapidly expanding softly billowing green leaves, waiting to be picked. I sometimes force our rhubarb, but it is good, tender, early and pink without forcing, so I usually don’t bother. Every now and then, roughly whenever I remember / can be bothered, I will wander (this year squelch) to the veg patch and pull up armfuls of the stuff, cutting the leaves off there and then and dropping them in the compost bin, before carrying the leaves back to the kitchen.
I only ever do about 4 things with it, but since I love them all, that is just plenty for me.
- Stew it – this gets eaten as is, or made into crumble. Either way it is a dream vehicle for custard.
- Tart it – the Raymond Blanc recipe is the tart of choice, click here to see.
- Sauce it – similar to stewing it but with no sugar, and pressed through a sieve to get a smooth sauce perfect for mackerel.
- Drink it – Hugh F-W’s rhubarb syrup recipe (River Cottage Year – rhubarb, orange juice, sugar, stew for 10 mins, strain) to drink with fizzy wine is a fun option from time to time.
The boys are fans too (although they don’t get to try option 4), but obviously I go a bit easy on the quantities with them. Rhubarb is deservedly famous for its tummy wobbling properties (all that oxalic acid), and in such small bodies, the tummies wobble quite easily.